Senior Women Web
Image: Women Dancing
Image: Woman with Suitcase
Image: Women with Bicycle
Image: Women Riveters
Image: Women Archers
Image: Woman Standing

Culture & Arts button
Relationships & Going Places button
Home & Shopping button
Money & Computing button
Health, Fitness & Style button
News & Issues button

Help  |  Site Map


Let’s Talk Turkey: Think Young, Food Friendly and Fruity When Choosing Wines for Thanksgiving


By Sharon Kapnick

Before Big Macs, Whoppers and Kentucky fried chicken, before hot dogs, corn dogs and chili dogs, there was Thanksgiving. Actually, Thanksgiving dinner, which dates back to the early 1600s, is America’s oldest food tradition. Today most families cherish their own traditions and serve the same dishes year after year. The menu is practically written in stone. You risk the wrath of Uncle Bill or Aunt Rose, not to mention cousin Sam or mother-in-law Miriam, if you remove any item from the repertoire. "Americans would no sooner change the menu for Thanksgiving dinner than paint the White House beige,” writes Diana Karter Appelbaum in her book Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American Tradition.

While the menu may require little planning, the food-and-wine pairing may need some attention. Although matching wine with turkey is a cinch (almost any wine, from a medium-bodied white to a fairly robust red, will work), matching wine with turkey, marshmallow-topped sweet-potato casserole, creamed onions, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy and — oh, yes! — stuffing that’s often laden with oysters, chestnuts, dried fruit, sausage, mushrooms, celery and/or seasonings — well, that’s another story entirely! Fortunately, there are several wines that can best handle all the diverse flavors.

And there are some general principles to keep in mind.

1) With a cornucopia of different flavors like these, simple, young, fruity wines are best. (Pairing simple wines with complex dishes is a basic food-and-wine-matching tenet.) It’s wise to stay away from heavily oaked and high-tannin wines. And it’s not the time to uncork your most expensive wines. It’s smarter to save them for occasions when fewer sweet dishes, which don’t really pair well with complex, sophisticated wines, are on the agenda.

2) Because Thanksgiving is usually a lengthy affair, it presents a perfect opportunity to pour several wines, at least a white and a red. After all, abundance is what Thanksgiving is all about.

3) Some think American wines are most appropriate for this particular holiday, but I don’t subscribe to that theory. Isn’t it American to welcome those from other countries to our own? (In fact, if you are against the war in Iraq, you might want to make a statement by featuring French wines.)

Now, on to the particulars. Since Thanksgiving is a celebratory day, why not get things rolling with a sparkling wine or Champagne? These bubblies are festive, invigorating and well loved. They make any day special — and a special day more so. Their fans will not be unhappy with them throughout this meal.

There are two excellent whites to move on to. Riesling is one. While it is not yet as popular as it deserves to be in the US, many wine experts consider it to be the best and noblest variety of all. Rieslings are vibrant, with floral, fruity (apple, peach, pear, citrus, tropical) and mineral aromas and flavors. One of their great virtues is their versatility: No wine goes better with food. Their fruitiness, crisp acidity and low alcohol level (German Rieslings range from 7% to 11%) make them a great choice almost anytime, and especially for Thanksgiving. Wine importer Terry Theise says, "Once people try German Rieslings at Thanksgiving, they’ll never drink anything else.” I recommend off-dry (the German Spätlese) versions, because a touch of sweetness matches the sweetness in this meal. “The dry wine you think will be great with the turkey,” says Theise, “will be castrated by the candied yams.” German Kabinetts (dry to off-dry) are a viable, less expensive alternative. The best Rieslings in the US — and they are very good indeed — are made in New York’s Finger Lakes region. They’re surprisingly similar to German Rieslings. The other good news is that they’re now available via mail order.

If you are interested in something white yet different and exotic, you might try a Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminers, which translates as “spicy grapes,” are distinctive, wildly aromatic wines with honeysuckle-rose petal and lichee-apricot-grapefruit aromas and flavors and a rich, luscious texture. They’re full bodied and complement heavier meals. Alsatians drink them with rich pâtés, foie gras and choucroute garni. In the US, they’re often considered one of the best wines to accompany spicy Asian dishes. Their spicy quality meshes with the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, froufrou stuffings and other side dishes.

Kerry Norton, winemaker of Washington’s Covey Run, touts Gewürztraminer as the perfect Thanksgiving wine. "Gewürztraminer spices up the meal,” he says. “It stands out; it wants to be noticed. What better time is there to serve it than at Thanksgiving, where the food can be prosaic?”

Some years ago, wine guru Robert Parker wrote in Food & Wine magazine about the wines he features at his Thanksgiving table. “I believe that the stuffing [should] dictate the type of wine that should be served,” he said. "Our stuffing is ... a spicy, boldly flavored bread, sausage and celery combination .... While the turkey itself has relatively straightforward flavors and could easily be matched with a multitude of medium- to full-bodied white wines (such as a California Chardonnay, an Oregon Pinot Gris or a French white Burgundy), the addition of the sausage and aromatic poultry seasoning in the stuffing requires a wine of considerable richness and unmistakable personality.” That wine, Parker wrote, is an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. Alsace is the region most associated with this particular grape and produces fantastic versions. Good ones are also made in the US (see Recommended Producers on Page Two).

Norton sees Gewürztraminer as a wine to jazz up a bland meal; Parker sees it as a wine that can handle a complex meal. Taste is subjective and very important in food-and-wine matching. But one thing’s for sure: Gewürztraminer is a wine to try at this particular meal.

Francophile wine-shop owner, importer and author Kermit Lynch suggests both whites and reds for Thanksgiving. “I find that Alsatian wine [which is virtually all white] is in the right spirit for this holiday,” he writes. “Beaujolais, too. Both, in their perfumes, contain memories of the past harvest’s bounty, which is what we are giving thanks for, right?” You bet.

Beaujolais comes in several levels. All are made from the Gamay grape, with flavors of blackberries, raspberries and cherries. They’re low in alcohol, food friendly and can be served slightly chilled. Since Thanksgiving is a meal that celebrates the harvest, Beaujolais Nouveau is appropriate. It’s the first wine of the season, readied in just a few weeks; it becomes available on the third Thursday of November. It’s fresh, grapey and simple. If you want something a little more serious, which I recommend, Beaujolais-Villages wines are a couple of steps up, and are even better turkey-and-trimmings matches. Beaujolais-cru wines, from ten designated sites, have more character and complexity and are best of all. In fact, they are probably the ideal red wines for this holiday repast. Look for Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon.

Page Two>>


©2005 Sharon Kapnick for SeniorWomenWeb
Follow Us:

+ Increase font size | - Decrease font size
Reset font size | Help

Follow Us:


About Us | Sponsors | Site Map | SWW Gift Shop | Letters | Feedback

SeniorWomenWeb, an Uncommon site for Uncommon Women ™ ( 1999-2023